This is the book horror fiction fans and, more particularly Clive Barker fans have been waiting for. And that wait has been a long one. The Scarlet Gospels is a major event in publishing but was it worth the wait? I finished the book this morning so I know what I think - loved the story but had some issues with the book itself.
I think the best way to review this is to do it in two parts so, if all you want is a review of the story aspect of TSG then feel free to just read the first part
THE SCARLET GOSPELS - STORY
What we have here is a final meeting between two of Clive Barker's greatest creations - P.I. Harry D'Amour and the Cenobite Hell priest Pinhead.
As it begins Pinhead is hunting down and killing all the great magicians of Earth and gathering all their knowledge with the intent of staging a coup and taking over Hell. While Harry is on an investigation a portal to Hell opens, Pinhead steps through and battle begins.
Pinhead offers Harry the chance to be his witness/chronicler of his grand coup but when Harry refuses he (Pinhead) takes Harry's friend and associate, the blind medium Norma, hostage and returns to Hell. Harry must follow but how will a mere mortal manage to survive Hell and beat Pinhead on his own turf?
I'm taking it that if you are going to read TSG you will know of Mr Barker's work either from his fiction or his films so you will know what to expect - you will not be disappointed. If this is your first time in his company then be warned - this is gruesome, visual, visceral horror of the highest calibre - "We have such sights to show you."
I'll admit that I am a big Barker fan and I awaited this volume with both excitement and a hint of trepidation, I knew what I wanted it to be and I had an idea, also, of what it could be. I'm happy to say I had nothing to worry about - this is so much better than I ever hoped it could be.
The biggest selling point with Clive Barker is his imagination. The creatures and demons he concocts are of the most horrific, fantastic and horrifically fantastic ilk. There are creations and places here that you would think had come from the mind of a madman but there is also beauty in the madness. Barker is wordy enough with his descriptions and visualisations to give his creations life on the page, indeed his version of Hell is up there with the best of worldbuilders.
Where, for me, Barker stands out though is with the creatures of Hell. They are not just 'token evil', they have character, they have story and, most importantly they have fears. They feel real. I will not spoilerise things for you but there was one character makes an appearance in the later section of the books that really surprised me. I would have expected to hate or at least dislike but ended up feeling sorry for in a way and understanding the way he feels (I may well come back to this in another blog post when everyone has had a chance to catch up.
So, in short, good storytelling, good story, excellent characterisation and a satisfactory ending
which brings us to part 2 of this post
THE SCARLET GOSPELS - THE BOOK ITSELF
Okay, I'm going to take you back to a point I made right at the start - this is Major Event Publishing, The Scarlet Gospels is a BIG DEAL. This is something people have been waiting a long time for. As fellow blogger Jim McLeod (and if you haven't checked out his Ginger Nuts of Horror site) said - with a book as important as this every man and his dog should be all over the proofing of this. Alas they were not.
The biggest, I guess, and most noticed point was on page 33 so I'll use that as an example - spacing matters!!!! tomovewithaferalfelinegrace is not a word. Even an entry level proof reader should have spotted that.
There are others too, often just a wrong word (what I think of as spell checker laziness ie same/some where a word is misspelt but still a real word, although not the word you need). These things should have been picked up before the book went to press. I would expect things like this from a small press publisher but not a giant like MacMillan,
The second point here is the cover (UK version) itself. If you have just bought this book or are planning to please remove the cover before and during reading. The gold lettering on the front does not hold up well to constant handling and may be rubbed away with regular contact.
I have one other issue but that is something I am going to go back to and look again so I will not go into detail here but sufficient to say there should not be this many issues with a book of this magnitude.
Right, rant over. If you've read through this far please don't let my misgivings in the second part of the review put you off. The Scarlet Gospels is a great read, Barker at his best